When I was doing VCE, Mum went back to study, so I ended up cooking dinner some of the time. When I say ‘cooking dinner’ I’m pretty sure I was just boiling some pasta and heating up sauce from a jar.
That’s often what cooking was when I left home and went to Ballarat for university. I can remember getting a reputation as a bad cook because I had a friend around for dinner and I started heating up the pasta sauce, then added mince into the sauce to cook.
When I moved back into Melbourne and joined the community at Credo Café, where I learnt from Tomsy, Gin, Karen, Mel and Neil how to cook big meals. I really appreciated the experience of being able to learn from people who had a lot of experience and had the time to teach others. Each week we’d all be rostered on to cook at least once. Cooking for 50 to 70 people every week for a few years gives you the confidence to cook for large numbers. Some of the staple meals were spaghetti bolognese (also known as Tuesday surprise), beef stroganoff, red beans and rice (you’ll want to eat a plate twice), pumpkin lasagne and chilli basil beef.
Last night we were expecting to have a lot of folks around for dinner. We had some pasta already cooked in the fridge from earlier in the week and lots of beef strips in the freezer. So I cooked up some beef stroganoff, a Credo classic that I hadn’t cooked for a long time. I also cooked some pumpkin pasta, which one of my fellow residents at Credo had said was what he cooked whenever they had vegetarians around – although it ended up pretty different because we just need to cook with what we have available any given day. It reminded me to appreciate the time other people took to teach me.
Our household, Indigenous Hospitality House, has just published a book. Tales from the Table gathers together a range of things that our household have been learning as Settler (non-Indigenous) people sharing our home with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families, on stolen land.
While the practical part of our mission is providing hospital accommodation, we also recognise that we have a role to play in helping Settler people rethink Australian and Christian identity in light of our colonial history. We hope that this book can help extend those conversations into the wider community.
You can buy a copy at our web store here. If you want to drop in and pick up your copy you can save on postage. And you can stick around for a cup of tea and a chat.
Earlier in the week I noticed Kaitlin Curtice’s blog post, ‘People Who Hold Space Will Heal the Church’, and I’m interested in what she says about holding space. She basically says that the church (and I think a lot of other institutions too) like to try and manage people rather than holding space where transformation could occur. (Reminds me a lot of the stuff I’ve been re-reading in Henri Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out.
On a similar theme, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be present to someone.
Sometimes it just means what some of us might regard as trivial bullshit. Talking about the weather, exchanging friendly banter, talking shit…
But we need to be alert to when that’s not what’s needed, when our guest has something deep they need to talk about – illness, love, death, family…
We’ve also got to be attentive to when someone just needs silence or space.
Sometimes presence means sitting with someone. Something it means banter. Sometimes it means politeness. Sometimes it means eye contact. Sometimes it means (thank God) no eye contact. Sometimes it means depth. Its just being present to the person and situation and responding as appropriate.
Yesterday we opened up our house for a discussion about the idea of hospitality as ‘making room’. I think when we’re talking about making room it’s important to think about how we demonstrate that in the discussion. I think that in our society we often try to fill quiet space with words and activity, and that if we allowed spaces to remain quiet and empty, we might hear voices we’d otherwise miss. For that reason I want to get comfortable with preparing less (or being okay not to use eveything I’ve prepared) and leaving more space in discussion for silence.
How do you feel about the place of silence in hospitality?
In Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen talks about hospitality as ‘freedom for the guest’. (He says this is the literal meaning of the Dutch word for hospitality, gastvrijheid.) This means that we aren’t welcoming the guest in order to try and change them. Instead we’re welcoming them into a space of emptiness, a space where transformation might happen, but where we don’t know what the transformation might look like. It’s not a space where we’re seeking to influence them to take on our ideology, religion or way of life. It’s not a space that the host tries to fill with themself. It’s a space where the host and guest can discover each other and potentially be transformed by the encounter.
I’ve been sick and exhausted for a while because a lot of things have been going on at once. This week i got to have a couple of days to be at home and rest. That’s a way of making room.
I also got to do some cleaning and tidying before a new housemate moves in to be more involved with our project. That’s another way of making room.
While we had a room empty, I was using the empty room to work and study, so I’ve needed to move my things. But that’s been an opportunity to rethink how I can best use the space I have. I don’t have a lot of space to work and study in, but I’d allowed it to get pretty messy and inefficient. I’d also had some ideas about how I could better organise the space, so it would be easier to work in. that’s another way of making room.
I’ve been reading Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out and John Safran’s Depends What You Mean By Extremist at the same time. I’ve spent a lot of time reading Nouwen’s book before, and one of the things I’ve appreciated most about it is the way he talks about the relationship between hostility and hospitality. He acknowledges that when we begin to practise hospitality, we’re often using it to cover over hostility. We can use our ability to provide for others as a way of holding power over them. I think everyone has had some kind of experience of recieving grudging hospitality or passive aggressive hsopitality. Nouwen thinks that if we’re able to recognise the hospitality that often underlies our hostility, we can start moving toward true hospitality, which is freedom for the guest.
I’ve also been interested in how Safran picks up on the theme of hospitality and hostility, although in some ways it’s quite different. John Safran seems to have made himself vulnerable in the process of writing his recent book, by participating in hospitality with various Australians who have, for various reasons, been called ‘extemists’. By going and visiting folks from various Australian extremist groups, spending time in their homes, sharing beer, smokes and pizza, Safran has made himself vulnerable, and I think many of his subjects have also made themselves vulnerable in response. At the end of his visit to United Patriots Front member Ralph Cerminara, Cerminara said he was going to write an article about Safran for his website Left Wing Bigots and Extremists Exposed, but he said he’d changed his mind because ‘it was nice [Safran] came over to chat.’ Safran also visits Muslims from different traditions, visits the Aboriginal tent embassy in Redfern and has a fresh look at the presence of extemism in his own Jewish community. All of these encounters seem to complicate the nature of these groups, when their opponents and the mass media seem to want to simplify everything. Safran shows that they aren’t as homogenous as we might expect. He find that there are Jews among the United Patriots Front despite the presence of neo-Nazis. He finds that Cerminara has Italian and Aboriginal heritage, is married to a Vietnamese migrant, supports Aboriginal land rights, is angry about governments trying to move Aboriginal people off their land, and hates that he gets lumped in with the left wing activists because of these views. I’m not by any means saying that UPF are admirable people, but that the story is more complex that what we’re often told.
On Saturday I posted about how our household (which is predominantly Christian) is trying to make sure we are clear about making sure there is space for folks who aren’t Christian. We want to make sure we can work alongside and learn from people who have other worldviews, not just people who have worldviews similar to our own. I’ve noticed that when groups make this decision there is often concern from Christians that the group will lose it’s Christian character. I don’t have that concern because I believe the project’s Christian character is preserved in our practises. (I’ve also been part of other Christian projects where we’ve involved people from other faiths or no faith, and we’ve been able to do that by focussing on Christian practices.)
I don’t think Christianity is generally known as a faith that emphasises practices. Generally we think of Chritianity as being focussed on beliefs. However, the gospels suggest that Jesus first invitation to his early disciples was to come and follow him. By looking at Jesus’ behaviour (rather than looking for theological doctrines) I think we can find the kind of practices that Jesus was teaching his followers:
- befriending the stranger
- sharing meals across social boundaries
- providing access to medical treatment
- reconciling with enemies
- bringing marginalised pople back into the community
Those Christian practices are all things that we do in different ways as part of our project. They don’t require people to adopt our religion to participate. But I think they do preserve continuity with the teachings of the founder of our movement.
Over the last couple of years our household has started hosting learning circles. These have been informal events where we’ve opened up the house to visitors so that we can discuss things that we’ve been learning through the project. We’ve realised that because we’ve been a predominantly Christian household we need to be clear about making sure participants don’t presume everyone is Christian. I’ve found that a lot of the time Christians will presume that they are in a homogenously Christian space where their beliefs and values are taken for granted. I’ve been lucky to have had a couple of experiences of Christian spaces which I think did a good job of making space for outside perspectives. I think it’s important that we keep finding ways to create spaces where people with different worldviews can learn from each other. (I don’t have any problem with Christians having their own spaces, I just think there are already so many ‘safe spaces’ for Christians just to be around other Christians.)